Four Manitoba athletes on Commonwealth stage Mislawchuk, Kirchmann, Law, Dhillon set for Games in Birmingham, England
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It’s 10 p.m. in Banyoles, Spain, a small town with just over 17,000 residents, pristine biking trails and lakes so blue you can see the fish while swimming. It’s just a short commute from Girona, a cycling mecca.
This is the training base for Tyler Mislawchuk these days. He’s a long way from Oak Bluff.
One of Canada’s finest triathletes has been battling a rash of injuries in recent months but is hellbent on leaving those setbacks behind and making an impact at the 2022 Commonwealth Games.
The two-time Olympian has been braving the scorching heat to “put the wheels back on” in time for the Games, set to start Thursday in Birmingham, England.
Mislawchuk is one of just four Manitoba athletes on Team Canada. He’s joined by cyclist Leah Kirchmann of Winnipeg, lawn bowler Rob Law and boxer Priyanka Dhillon.
The Commonwealth Games run from July 28 to Aug. 8., with athletes from 72 different nations and territories competing for glory.
Canada is sending 276 athletes to compete in 18 sports and five para sports.
Mislawchuk’s motivation level is sky high, particularly because his participation was in jeopardy not so long ago.
In June, he suffered through a non-COVID-19 chest infection and then crossed the finish line just a second behind the winner of a World Cup triathlon in Mexico.
A week later, he “felt off” in Montreal, and tests revealed a non-transmissible parasite in his stomach, likely contracted in Mexico. To top things off, he was hit by a bike on a walking path in La Belle Province.
Shortly after returning to Spain, what he thought were allergies turned out to be COVID-19.
He was out for a walk recently, pondering his run of bad luck but also looking ahead to what could be a shimmering silver lining.
“I want to win, I want to do well so badly,” he said. “…more than anyone else around me wants to.
“I wouldn’t be racing or competing here if I didn’t think I had a chance to mix it up with the best in the world. That’s what kind of drives me to wake up every day.”
A scroll through Leah Kirchmann’s Instagram account reveals a rainy April race through the hills of Belgium, a circuit in the United Kingdom in June and a race through picturesque mountains in Italy earlier this month.
She will soon be swapping her black-and-blue pro uniform for the familiar Red and White.
Kirchmann, 32, will compete in the women’s road race and time trials on courses in Wolverhampton and Warwick.
“It’s special to be representing Canada, especially… since I represent one of the smaller regions in Canada for athletes,” says Kirchmann.
The two-time Olympian and soon-to-be three-time Commonwealth Games competitor expects the English fans to line the course and show their support.
She’s also excited to experience the contagious energy an event like this can bring.
Last year’s Olympics in Tokyo were a far cry from its usual spectacle, making it feel like just a normal race. Fans weren’t allowed at the games’ opening ceremonies, the cyclists didn’t live in the village and competitors in the road race crossed the finish line to applause from a modest crowd and a backdrop of mostly empty bleachers.
“I’m hoping that I’ll really be able to soak up the Games atmosphere in Birmingham,” she says.
While Mislawchuk and Kirchmann have each had a taste of Olympic competition, the Commonwealth Games provides the grandest stage for Rob Law and Canada’s lawn bowlers.
The 24-year-old Winnipegger has been bowling since he was nine years old, yet he’s already been to three world U25 championships. He also earned two bronze medals at the 2019 Asia Pacific Bowls Championships.
Indeed, he’s known as “the lawn bowler” to friends and family, although most have only seen his international exploits on social media. The Commonwealth Games, to be broadcast and streamed by CBC, will change that.
“This will be a really cool chance to kind of share what those international experiences are like with everyone back home,” Law said.
He’ll play lead for Canada’s triples and fours teams, where his job is to deliver the jack, a small white ball players attempt to bowl close to. He must then roll the first two bowls of an end and get them close to the jack, putting pressure on the opposition.
Manitobans love their curling, and lawn bowling is similar.
“This is a sport where at least if you’re a Canadian fan, that we’re up and coming. I would say that a lot of teams underestimate us at times, and we’ve had some big wins,” said Law.
Winnipeg’s Priyanka Dhillon has her sights set on continuing her climb to the top of boxing’s international ranks.
In May, she became the first female from the province to compete at a world championship. However, her stay at the tournament in Turkey was short-lived as she lost a first-round bout to the eventual silver medallist in the 48-kilogram weight class.
The Commonwealth Games features the same format. Win and advance or lose and go home.
Dhillon has already suffered the bitter sting of putting in months of hard work, only to bow out early — and doesn’t want it to happen again.
She’s been training in Ireland with the rest of Team Canada’s boxing squad, twice a day, five times a week. There, she’s had opportunities to spar with opponents from India, Australia, New Zealand, Barbados and more.
Her international experience is limited, as she has 32 matches under her belt. But it’s an advantage the 29-year-old hopes to use, along with her reach and height.
“It’s not like they’re gonna have all these videos and all this data to look at on me, so it’s a nice little surprise for them when I get there,” she said.
“As long as I have my best performance, I’ll be happy. But a gold medal would be nice also.”